"When you build generators, you are trying to get the maximum possible sense of order with the least amount of design work. This is really, really hard to do. Human beings are incredibly good at noticing weird things that don't fit."
First interview of the year with the creator of Here Be Taverns
Q&A with Adam of Here Be Taverns
How did you get into creating random generators?
There are two big moments that stand out.
The first was in 2015. I was in the early stage of my career as a software developer. I had just learned the Ruby on Rails web framework and was looking for a side project. I have always been really interested in fantasy gaming and had discovered D&D in 2011, so I decided I wanted to do something around that.
Building a random generator website seemed like a fun project that I could actually finish. It ended up being more work than I thought, and I made so many terrible design decisions, but I did finish it and that became the first version of Here Be Taverns
The second big moment was when I discovered Minecraft a few years later. I remember walking around the map and feeling awestruck. The world was so fun to explore and it was all generated. This was an important moment for me because this is when I discovered the broader concept of "procedural generation". I started finding research papers, websites, and videos that dove into some of the methods. I would study it in my spare time for the years to come.
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
The one I'm most proud of is the tavern generator on Here Be Taverns. I think it strikes a really good balance of offering lots of details without being overwhelming.
The characters it presents are nested generators, so if you click on one you can see all the same details you would in the separate character generator. The maps from Watabou offer a nice visual element that DMs can actually use.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
The most fun is the element of surprise. As a programmer, I am used to things being predictable. In fact, you usually want things to be predictable. You pass something into a function, and you know what will come out because you wrote the code.
But when you build generators, you get to be surprised by the results. Sure I set a few rules for the system, but the final product can constantly delight me! In a way this makes me both the creator AND the consumer at the same time. It's really fun stuff.
What are the biggest challenges of creating generators?
Generators are all about finding the golden line between order and chaos.
In a "designed" creation, you will find more order. Think of a polished video game like God of War or a photorealistic painting. Every tiny detail has been considerately created and placed there with intention.
In an "evolved" creation, you will find more chaos. Think of a forest. There are a few simple rules and then evolution does the rest. There is some order in there somewhere but it's harder to see it.
When you build generators, you are trying to get the maximum possible sense of order with the least amount of design work. This is really, really hard to do. Human beings are incredibly good at noticing weird things that don't fit. But if you fix every little weird thing, you end up having a designed creation that doesn't surprise you. Finding the right balance is really hard but really fun.
For people who are interested in diving further into this idea, I'd recommend looking at an article that introduces Perlin Noise. You'll learn that pure randomness is actually quite ugly to people, and that people have developed tricks to "smooth out" the randomness while still keeping just the right amount of chaos.
How do you use random generators yourself?
Right now I am lucky enough to be working on RPG projects 5 days a week. I often need to come up with names for people or places when I'm writing. Random generators are great for that!
I also use them when I run RPG games. At some point players are sure to go somewhere unexpected. Random generators help me improvise new world elements that are a little more interesting (not every NPC can be Bob the squire with the iron sword...).
What is the most interesting generator or tool you've seen?
For me personally, nothing beats the generators from Watabou. Check out the Medieval Fantasy City Generator. I've seen generators with more options, and generators with weirder outputs, but I really care about the way the content is visually presented. Watabou is the best I've found at crafting powerful generators that still look amazing.
For a more experimental check out his Teen Island Simulator. It's hilarious!
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
I'm a couple weeks away from releasing The Quickstart Guide to Game Mastering. I found that a lot of people are asking for help to become a DM but they get bombarded with way too much information, and fear prevents them from taking the leap. I created this guide to focus entirely on running the first game. It includes a custom made adventure and a complete system for getting you to actually start without spending a lot of money or time.
I'm also kicking off the production of Here Be Taverns: Factions, Towns, and Encounters. These ones will be a little more complicated, but I'll make sure they look as nice and simple as the ones I already have. I plan to charge for access to these generators. I've never charged for generators before, so I'm approaching it as an experiment. I'll let you know how it turns out!
Where can people find you on social media?
I tend to hangout on Twitter @swordnsource from time to time. You can find all my other stuff on my website www.swordandsource.ca.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
I have several other irons in the fire, and once the guide and new generators are out I'll be moving onto a new software project. As I said, this is all I do now. Making TTRPGs better and helping the creators is my life.
If you like what I've done so far and want to keep up with what's next, I'd recommend signing up for my newsletter. I appreciate my subscribers so, so much. They get all sorts of sneak peaks, free stuff, and discounts.
I'm also very interested in collaborations. I find that the projects I work on with other people turn out the best. If you ever want to chat, or pitch me on joining your thing, please don't hesitate to reach out!
You can find more more Creator Interviews on Rand Roll.
I have a discord for discussing random tools and tables and I'm also on instagram as rpg_generators with random tables and gens.